By Christian Klapp, Labour’s Candidate for Putney Thamesfield
On 5th April the Council voted through a plan to sack all 24 of the borough’s Parks Police officers. Let me just repeat that: every single parks police constable is being sacked by Wandsworth Council. Let’s talk about the context of that decision.
The cuts to the Metropolitan Policing budget that Boris Johnson is implementing, that will see 1,000 police officer posts abolished. In an attempt to minimise the damage these cuts will have, Boris has offered London boroughs a deal to fund a police officer. Wandsworth has decided to take up this offer: they are buying eight officers, and that will – supposedly – safeguard another eight borough police officers’ jobs. And it’s in that context that Wandsworth are terminating the jobs of all 24 of our Parks Police officers. So on the one hand we have eight police jobs underwritten by Wandsworth Council Taxpayers. On the other we lose 24 Parks Police. Not a very good exchange rate, is it?
What do the Parks Police do? Well, most obviously they patrol our parks, cemeteries and open spaces. Wandsworth has 800 acres of such land that it is responsible for. They are attested constables and have powers of arrest while enforcing byelaws and parks regulations. And they secure parks and cemeteries – like Wandsworth Park; like Leaders Gardens; like Putney Cemetery on the Common – at night to stop anti social behaviour and crime in these unlit spaces. They also raise for the council £250,000 in income from policing big events.
The council hopes that sacking 24 Parks Police and employing 8 “full” police will provide the same level of service for less money. I hope you’re as sceptical as I am that this could be the case.
For a start, redundancy payouts for the 24 sacked Parks Police will cost more than three years’ worth of projected savings.
Second, the council is unable to tell us whether the eight Police Officers they’re going to fund are new officers in addition to existing levels, or will simply underwrite existing posts. If police numbers fall still further in Wandsworth over coming years, will the excuse be: “yes, but that’s eight officers more than we would otherwise have”? How can we guarantee that these officers will be safeguarded? No one seems able to explain that.
Third, these officers will be employed and line-managed by Wandsworth Police, not Wandsworth Council. They will answer to the Met – as they should and will be required to address Met priorities, not parks priorities.
Fourth, given they work for the Met, it is surely eminently reasonable that any income they generate will go to the Met, not the council. Have you ever heard of anyone doing a job for one organisation but an entirely separate one being paid for their efforts? No, neither have I.
Finally – and most importantly – this big reduction in staffing levels raises the spectre of our parks and cemeteries being left unlocked at night. Would you be comfortable with a vast, unlit space like Wandsworth Park being open to all, all night? Or Leaders Gardens? Or a cemetery? I’m really not.
All the points above have been put to the council. Despite approving the cut, they have been unable to answer any of the questions. They’ve won no assurances. And yet councillors decided to press ahead without knowing the answers or having the full picture. Doesn’t Putney have a high enough crime rate already without adding parks to the problem? Send me to the Town Hall and I’ll ask the tough questions and won’t give any measure my vote until I’ve been given a satisfactory answer. That in itself will be a change for Putney